Jerome L. Sullivan, father of the iron hypothesis of heart disease

Jerome Sullivan, M.D.

(There’s no Wikipedia page for this man, something I thought ridiculous, so someone suggested that I write one. I wrote a short piece with a couple of references, and it was rejected as Dr. Sullivan was deemed to be not notable enough. Wikipedia has articles on comic book characters and minor entertainers, among other things; it’s pathetic that it rejected an article on Sullivan. Here’s a short notice of Dr. Sullivan.)

Jerome L. Sullivan III, M.D., PhD (October 13, 1944 – May 3, 2013) was a physician, pathologist, and scientist known for his conception of the iron hypothesis of heart disease.[1]

Long “puzzled” by the existence of stark differences in heart disease rates between men and women, Sullivan was not satisfied with the then current theories that sex hormone differences between men and women were responsible for the differing heart disease rates. In 1981, he published a seminal paper, Iron and the sex difference in heart disease risk.[2]

In this paper, Sullivan argued that iron could explain the heart disease differential, because 1) iron storage diseases often feature myocardial failure; 2) men accumulate stored iron as they age; and 3) women who reach menopause gradually accumulate iron and their heart disease rates rise toward that of men.

The abstract of his paper:

Premenopausal women in affluent societies are protected from heart diseases which kill large numbers of men. The basis for this sex difference and the loss of protection with menopause is unknown. The hypothesis offered is that the greater incidence of heart diseases in men and postmenopausal women compared with the incidence in premenopausal women is due to higher levels of stored iron in these two groups. The hypothesis is supported by observations of (1) myocardial failure in iron storage diseases, (2) accumulation of stored iron with age in men, and (3) accumulation of stored iron after menopause to levels found in men. In addition, the heart diseases of affluence are rare among impoverished peoples who are often iron deficient. The depletion of iron stores by regular phlebotomy could be the experimental system for testing this hypothesis, and a preventive therapy if the hypothesis is confirmed.

Sullivan’s paper has been cited over 700 times, and set off a stark reappraisal of the role of iron in heart disease and in other pathological conditions.

He went on to write over 80 scientific papers, most of them exploring the relation between iron and disease.

According to his obituary,

Sullivan was born in southern Alabama, a descendant of one of the founding families of Dothan, a small city known for harvesting peanuts. He earned his medical degree from the University of Florida and his Ph.D. from Florida State University, and spent much of his career in Charleston, S.C.

He was always thinking, always attempting to solve scientific puzzles. The puzzle of the huge difference in heart disease rate between men and women was one worthy of him. If the iron hypothesis of heart disease comes to be generally accepted in the years to come, he will rank with other great medical minds of history.

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Leave a Comment:

Michael says February 14, 2016

This whole iron business is very interesting. Reminds me of this interview:
The latter part talks about iron and why beef + dairy may not be such a great idea. I know you have mentioned dairy as chelating iron, but Krauss seems to disagree.

    P. D. Mangan says February 14, 2016

    Michael, thanks for that link. Krauss is a highly respected scientist in this field, and he’s mentioning iron as possibly implicated in heart disease through its putative production of small LDL particles.

matt says February 16, 2016


As always, awesome write up. Thanks for always putting up great articles. Here’s another link that’s worth a look.

You guys should chat, I’m sure we would all love to hear an interview or just a discussion with you both on your site. We need more like minded people getting together to discuss the right stuff.


    P. D. Mangan says February 16, 2016

    Thanks, Matt.

John Winters says February 16, 2016

It’s great to see an article on Dr. Sullivan. Wikipedia is agenda run, and has been since it’s inception. The most irrelevant crap is on Wikipedia, and they have the huevos to reject real, valid, incredibly important research as ‘not notable’.

I do wonder if there are any other avenues that can be pursued to ‘force their hand’ a bit? Maybe a legal challenge of some sort? Might be a bit involved, or too much to bother with. The only reason it matters at all is because if you type in nearly anything in a search engine, it defaults to Wikipedia as the main source page these days. With that kind of monopoly, the correct information needs to be where people have access to it. Thus, Wikipedia needs to either do it’s job willingly, or be forced to from public outcry.

A foraging friend of mine has seeral articles attributed to himself on Wikipedia, where they misquote him. And even though he is the attributed ‘expert’, he cannot get Wikipedia to change it. He tried to correct it himself, and he’s told that he’s not authorized to make changes on his own quotes.

    P. D. Mangan says February 16, 2016

    Thanks, John, at least my post is on the first Google page for his name. Maybe it will get to slot one, in which case Wiki’s loss is my gain. But I don’t care about that so much, it just seemed such a shame that man who created this hypothesis and spent most of his life gathering evidence to support it is deemed “not notable” enough for a Wiki article. Whereas there are lots of articles on very obscure people, and even non-people.

Lise Sullivan Ode says June 29, 2016

I’m Jerome Sullivan’s daughter. My brother found this article and my sister just forwarded it to me. Thank you so much for trying to get him back on Wikipedia. I agree, it’s ridiculous that he’s not included in their catalog of “notable” people because he most certainly is one. I tried to submit an application but was told that family members aren’t allowed to do that. I wish they would include him. Thanks again!

    P. D. Mangan says June 29, 2016

    Lise, thanks for commenting. You have great cause to be proud of your father.

    Suzanne brand melton says March 17, 2017

    Lise! I worked with your dad at the VA and am so glad to see this article!!!

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